How to manage stress at work

Habitomic Journalist
Habitomic Journalist

Most of the stress we experience comes from our jobs and worksites. Work stress has significant health consequences that range from relatively benign (like getting more colds and flu) to potentially serious (such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome).

While stress at work is common, finding a low-stress job is hard (if not impossible). A more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce stress at your current job.

 Work-related stress can manifest itself in various physiological and physical symptoms. Signs and symptoms of work stress can include:

  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Low mood
  • Low productivity accompanied by feelings of low achievement
  • Regular absence and a higher sickness rate
  • Finding that you’re unable to switch off from work
  • Lacking motivation
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia or loss of sleep leading to tiredness
  • Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Weight loss or gain

It’s important to keep an eye out for these stress-related symptoms in coworkers, so individuals can receive help and employers can improve the work environment.

The disadvantages of having work stress:


Throughout our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.

But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.

Long-term exposure to work-related stressors like these can affect mental health. Research links burnout with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, this sets the stage for serious mental health problems. Indeed, one study shows younger people who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the job are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

High levels of stress at work –– and outside of it –– can affect physical health, too. Repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, the repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can disturb the immune system, and raise the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Work stress can also harm companies or organizations. Burnout reduces job productivity and boosts absenteeism and job turnover, and also leads to conflict between coworkers, causing stress to spread within a workplace.

What are the causes of workplace stress?

The causes of workplace stress can originate from lack of growth opportunities, lack of resources, lack of work flexibility, unhealthy workloads poor leadership, lack of social support, and lack of good policies and environments to manage stress.


  • Workplace stress that comes from poor leadership

1. Lack of understanding of leadership structure and roles

A lack of understanding of leadership structure creates stress. When employees understand leadership structure, there is less conflict, which enhances productivity and morale.

So, leaders should create and honor a clear leadership structure so everyone knows to whom they are accountable.

2. Lack of job feedback from leadership

Unless employees receive feedback, they can worry about their job performance even when they are doing well. This can make it hard for employees to manage their stress. When leaders communicate with a spirit of encouragement, employees feel reassured and are more likely to communicate with leaders, especially during difficult challenges.

3. Employees need to understand the company’s vision

When employees understand the company vision, they can see how their efforts fit into the big picture and it is easier for them to focus their energy on helping achieve company goals. Understanding and working toward a shared vision gives work a higher meaning, improves performance, and helps employees manage stress.

4. Employees need to understand how their roles contribute to company success

When employees understand how their role fits with company goals, they will be more likely to engage and contribute.  They will also develop a sense of control over their work duties, which can help manage stress levels.

5. Employees need to understand their job responsibilities

It is stressful when job expectations are confusing. When employees understand job responsibilities, they will feel calmer and perform better. Work stress and employee health have a direct impact on employee productivity.


  • Workplace stress caused by unhealthy workloads

6. Work shifts need to be reasonable

Too many hours of demanding work will wear down and exhaust employees. Everyone needs time away from work to rest, recharge, and take care of other duties.  A work/life balance helps maintain physical and emotional health and improves productivity. It also helps employees to manage stress.

So, leaders should limit work shifts to 10 hours or less and make sure employees have adequate time to rest before their next shift. This will improve morale and productivity, and reduce the risk of work injuries.

7. Employees should be encouraged to take breaks during the day to help manage stress

Short breaks throughout the day allow employees to recharge and refocus. Regular breaks help employees work more effectively.

8. Employee assignments should challenge their abilities without overwhelming them

Employees need to be challenged but not overloaded. The challenge helps employees develop skills, makes work interesting, and helps maintain motivation.

But it is just not possible for people to perform well for extended periods when workloads are too heavy. Working this way leads to irritability, exhaustion, reduced productivity, and ultimately, illness, and injury.


  • Workplace stress caused by a lack of work flexibility

9. Employees should be able to rotate during shifts from high to lower stress tasks

High-stress tasks are sometimes an unavoidable part of work. However, performing these tasks without relief or variation can wear employees down to a point of exhaustion. Working at high-stress tasks for extended amounts of time will cause their work and health to suffer.

The solution is that leaders should schedule regular breaks for employees who perform high-stress activities. Give them assignments that vary by stress level so they can manage their workload by rotating tasks.

10. Employees should be able to conveniently change work hours when needed

Allowing employees to have some control over their work schedule will manage stress levels.  A worker with schedule flexibility is better able to find work/life balance and is generally happier, more productive, and more engaged at work.


  • Workplace stress is caused by a lack of resources

11. Employees should have the resources and supplies needed to perform assigned tasks

Job stress is the “harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.” Employees who are expected to perform tasks without necessary resources and supplies will feel powerless and become stressed as a result.

12. Employees need the training to do their jobs well

One source of job stress is the disparity between a person’s capabilities and the requirements of the job they are asked to perform. Often, this stress can be alleviated with training and education. An employee who is properly trained and educated will have the confidence and ability they need to do their job well and better manage their stress.

13. Employees need to communicate with managers and co-workers

When employees are able to communicate with those they work with, it will alleviate much of their stress. Just knowing the lines of communication are open between an employee and their manager helps tremendously.


  • Workplace stress is caused by a lack of growth opportunities

14. Employees need realistic opportunities to grow, advance, and be promoted

Employees need opportunities to advance and grow. If employees do not see these opportunities, their morale and performance may suffer.

So, leaders should reward employees appropriately when they perform well in this regard. Also, provide opportunities for career advancement and employees will rise to the challenge.

15. Employees want and need job security

Employees face growing job insecurity. Downsizing, layoffs, and budget cuts are increasingly common. The result of this uncertainty is stress.

How can you cope with work stress?


Here are some stress management techniques you can try if you are finding it hard to cope with work stress:

1. Start your day off right

You might be surprised by how affected by workplace stress you are when you have a stressful morning. When you start the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily.

2. Be clear on requirements

If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.

If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you.

3. Stay away from conflict

Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can.

4. Stay organized

Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day.

5. Be comfortable

Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort, often related to where you perform most of your daily tasks (such as at your desk).

Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause feelings of low-grade frustration. Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace.

6. Forget multitasking

Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day.

But there is a certain “frazzled” feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people. Instead of multitasking to stay on top of your tasks, try another cognitive strategy like chunking.

7. Walk at lunch

You can combat the physical and mental effects of work stress by getting some exercise on your lunch break.

If your schedule allows for it, you might try taking short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.

8. Keep perfectionism in check

Being a high achiever might make you feel good about yourself and help you excel at work, but being a perfectionist can create problems for you (and those around you). You might not be able to do everything perfectly, every time—especially in a busy, fast-paced job.

A good strategy to avoid the perfectionism trap is always striving to just do your best and making time to congratulate yourself on your efforts. You may find that your results are better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.

9. Listen to music on the drive home

Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. For example, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.

10. Relaxation strategies.

Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle group. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself.

11. Problem-solving

Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution.

12. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits.

13. Reappraising negative thoughts

Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence and doubt their ability to cope with stressors. To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.

In conclusion, workplace stress can have very harmful effects on our health. We can’t remove the stress but we can control it with these habits and methods mentioned above. If you are looking for a way to remind yourself to do these habits or methods to relieve your stress at work, you can download the Habitomic app to help yourself.